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Ken Borland

Sharks sink to new lows 0

Posted on August 03, 2016 by Ken

The Sharks will be contemplating the rest of their SuperRugby overseas tour with sheer terror after they were put to the sword, 48-15, by the Highlanders in their opening match in Dunedin on Friday.

While the Highlanders obviously deserve credit for their superb display – highlighted by their dazzling skill and vision on attack – the miserable defence of the Sharks, the number of basic mistakes they made and their own lacklustre attack made this one of their most dismal performances, almost as bad as the rout they suffered at the hands of the Crusaders at Kings Park a month ago.

The brilliance of Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, running at the line and invariably choosing the right option, had the Sharks’ defence at sixes and sevens and the pace and power of Patrick Osborne saw the wing create numerous gaps.

The support play of the home side was also outstanding and their skill in offloading meant they strolled to seven tries.

The first visit of the Highlanders to the Sharks’ 22 brought a try as fullback Odwa Ndungane rushed out of the defensive line to give flank Gareth Evans an easy run-in after wings Osborne and Waisake Naholo had crashed through on mini-breaks. It was a portent of the defensive failures that were to dog the Sharks all night, while Ndungane was also caught out of position on numerous occasions by the clever kicking games of half-backs Sopoaga and Aaron Smith.

The lead was extended to 10-0 in the 21st minute when Sopoaga, impressive with the boot as well, kicked a penalty after Osborne and skilful eighthman Nasi Manu went over the gain-line before a super offload to hooker Liam Coltman drew a stupid ruck infringement from flank Etienne Oosthuizen, the late replacement for Renaldo Bothma.

The Sharks did well, though, to level the scores by the 32nd minute.

The kicking game of the Sharks was generally poor, but one good up-and-under by flyhalf Fred Zeilinga led to a penalty for offsides which he kicked, before the powerful ball-carrying of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts and Stephan Lewies allowed The Beast to plough his way over from a ruck close to the line.

The response from the Highlanders was swift and brutal, however, as they scored two quick tries to go into the break with a healthy 24-10 lead.

Sopoaga really bloomed in those four minutes before half-time, his brilliant little chip-kick to Naholo, after Smith’s quick tap-penalty and break, setting up the winger’s try and then his run across the face of the defence creating space out wide for Osborne, who was found with a great, long pass.

But instead of regrouping at half-time, the Sharks came out and produced one of the worst 40 minutes in their history as they utterly failed to corral the rampant Highlanders attack.

The lack of urgency and general malaise was epitomised by replacement scrumhalf Conrad Hoffman being in lala land as Marco Wentzel’s lineout steal was tapped past him and his tardiness in dotting down in the in-goal area saw lock Mark Reddish sneak in for the bonus point try.

Two minutes later, Smith made it 36-10 as he ranged up in support of centre Richard Buckman’s half-break, but the Sharks were on attack when they conceded the sixth try.

Protecting the ball and the basic skills of passing and catching are variables that are in a team’s own control and the Sharks were dreadful in those departments, losing possession inside the Highlanders’ 22 in the 67th minute and, with a variety of players getting through the half-gap and offloading, the home side scored a great team try, rounded off by replacement prop Brendon Edmonds.

The Sharks managed to show enough interest in the contest for hooker Du Plessis to score off a lineout drive in the 71st minute, but the Highlanders gained sweet revenge when their own pack drove their way to a 79th-minute try, replacement flank Elliot Dixon dotting down.

This must rate as one of the weakest Sharks teams to ever play Super Rugby, with too many players out of their depth at this level.


Highlanders: Tries – Gareth Evans, Waisake Naholo, Patrick Osborne, Mark Reddish, Aaron Smith, Brendon Edmonds, Elliot Dixon. Conversions – Lima Sopoaga (5). Penalty – Sopoaga.

Sharks: Tries – Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis. Conversion – Fred Zeilinga. Penalty –Zeilinga.

Springboks Bismarck, JP & Lewies all return for Sharks 0

Posted on July 15, 2016 by Ken


Springboks Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen and Stephan Lewies will all return to the Sharks’ starting line-up for their SuperRugby match against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday, director of rugby Gary Gold announced on Wednesday.

The embattled Sharks will be desperate to start their tour on a positive note and hooker Du Plessis and lock Lewies will bring some much-needed physicality to the pack, while the experience, size and defensive nous of Pietersen is going to be crucial at outside centre as the visitors look to contain one of the most potent backlines in Super Rugby.

Franco Marais, Waylon Murray and Mouritz Botha all move down to the bench.

The other changes to the starting line-up see tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis rested and replaced by Lourens Adriaanse for a match that will test the Sharks’ mobility and defence more than their set-piece prowess, while Willem Alberts shifts to eighthman with Renaldo Bothma moving to blindside flank.

Gold confirmed that, because of injuries, he is going to have to shuffle his loose-forward stocks carefully, with Etienne Oosthuizen the only reserve flank on tour.

“Etienne will get some game time and will have to start a few games to give other guys like Renaldo or Willem a rest. At this stage it’s the only option I have with Ryan Kankowski and Tera Mtembu injured, Jean Deysel still serving his suspension and the Du Preez brothers with the SA U20 squad. We don’t have any more options and we have to look at it carefully and see how we go, it just means that Etienne is going to play more of a role. Mouritz Botha and Stephan Lewies can cover the blindside, if need be, but hopefully we don’t have that situation,” Gold said.

Fred Zeilinga will be flyhalf for at least another week and will be looking to impress after struggling against the Bulls a fortnight ago. Francois Steyn returns from suspension next week, and is flying over to New Zealand in the next couple of days, while Lionel Cronje is the other option for the number 10 jersey.

Steyn can, of course, also play fullback or centre and it is anybody’s guess where Gold will eventually employ him next weekend against the Hurricanes.

“Frans’s strength comes from his ability to cover all three positions, we will see what happens this weekend. He will only be joining the team this weekend, and we will see how all the guys go and who performs and we will have a look at where we best see Frans fit into the team.  I see him as all three of those positions,” Gold said.

Team: Odwa Ndungane, S’bura Sithole, JP Pietersen, Andre Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Fred Zeilinga, Cobus Reinach, Willem Alberts, Renaldo Bothma, Marcell Coetzee, Marco Wentzel, Stephan Lewies, Lourens Adriaanse, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Bench – Franco Marais, Dale Chadwick, Matt Stevens, Mouritz Botha, Etienne Oosthuizen, Conrad Hoffmann, Lionel Cronje, Waylon Murray.

Sharks end Highlanders’ home run with sheer character 2

Posted on April 25, 2016 by Ken


The Cell C Sharks ended the eight-match winning home run of the Highlanders, the defending Vodacom SuperRugby champions, with a gutsy 15-14 win in Dunedin on Friday, in a display that proves there is obviously great character and potential in their side.

The Sharks were helped by the 13th-minute red-carding of centre Jason Emery, who clattered into Willie le Roux while he was in the air fielding a kick, causing the fullback to suffer a horrendous fall on to his neck and head. Fortunately the Springbok was able to return to the field after a concussion test.

The error-rate of the Highlanders was also a major factor, with the home side making numerous handling errors to stymie their often dangerous attacking play, but the scrambling defence of the Sharks was outstanding, deserving some of the credit for forcing mistakes.

The Sharks made the most nervy of starts as they received the kick-off and set a driving maul, but were immediately penalised for obstruction, flyhalf Lima Sopoaga slotting the kick and giving the Highlanders the first three points on the scoreboard.

Flyhalf Garth April, making his first Super Rugby start, then sent the restart too deep and conceded a scrum in centre-field.

The battering for the Sharks started in the seventh minute when Sopoaga was late and led with the shoulder in a tackle on Cobus Reinach. April kicked the resulting penalty to level the scores, but the scrumhalf limped off the field with a leg-injury.

The Le Roux/Emery incident happened six minutes later and the hard-working eighthman, Philip van der Walt, also left the field in the first half with an injury.

In the 11th minute, April kicked a second penalty after the Highlanders collapsed the Sharks’ maul, after a lineout had been won five metres from the tryline thanks to a clever kick by wing Odwa Ndungane.

But despite being reduced to 14 men after Emery’s deserved ejection, the Highlanders dominated the first half. Their superior spatial recognition and the way they beat the Sharks’ first-time tacklers and dominated the collisions meant the visitors were forced to defend for long periods.

That the Sharks went into halftime 6-3 up was only thanks to Sopoaga being short with two penalties, the handling mistakes made on attack by the Highlanders and some heroic scrambling defence.

There was no better example of their courageous defence than in the last three minutes when the Highlanders piled on the pressure and the yellow-carding of lock Stephan Lewies was a potentially crippling development. But the Sharks held on magnificently and twice held the opposition up over the line.

Early in the second half, the Sharks showed some improved attacking ability, their forwards – especially Van der Walt’s replacement Jean Deysel – carrying the ball powerfully and the backline showing super ball-retention, trapping the Highlanders offsides and allowing April to stretch their lead to 9-3 with another penalty.

Lewies returned but the Sharks were only able to enjoy their 15-14 advantage for half-a-dozen minutes as the Highlanders piled on the pressure with good attacking play, leading to two penalties by Sopoaga and a yellow card for outside centre JP Pietersen, who showed ill-discipline in playing, while he was on the ground, scrumhalf Aaron Smith.

The Sharks did regain a 56th-minute lead through another April penalty (12-9), but, two minutes later, wing Matt Faddes managed to stretch his 1.85-metre frame and dot the ball down in the right-hand corner, having evaded Le Roux’s last-ditch tackle.

The Highlanders were 14-12 up going into the last five minutes; as a team, they have an attacking framework, but what followed was utter madness as they tried to run the ball from their own tryline and were forced to concede a five-metre lineout.

They stopped the driving maul and the Sharks, although they enjoyed a dominant scrum in the final quarter thanks to the introductions of Lourens Adriaanse and Chiliboy Ralepelle, were not able to exploit the extra space out wide with the Highlanders missing a centre.

But there was a penalty for them, which April slotted for a perfect five-from-five record with the boot, and a timely, shock victory for the embattled Sharks.

Even then, the Highlanders duffed a chance to snatch the win through a missed drop goal by Sopoaga and then a forward pass as a fitting final act.

There is still a lot of work ahead for the Sharks, even though they have kept themselves in touch with the leaders in the South African Group. But the attitude and commitment are clearly there, and that will be highly encouraging for coach Gary Gold.


Highlanders: Try – Matt Faddes. Penalties – Lima Sopoaga (3).

Cell C Sharks: Penalties – Garth April (5)

Sharks rediscover attacking mojo but danger lurks in Dunedin 0

Posted on June 26, 2015 by Ken


The Sharks did enough in the closing hour of their loss to the Chiefs last weekend to suggest they may have rediscovered their attacking mojo and their offensive capabilities have been further boosted ahead of their Vodacom SuperRugby match against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

Wings Piet Lindeque and Odwa Ndungane did precious little against the Chiefs, and before that the Sharks had an unsuccessful experiment with “bolter” Sean Robinson, so it will be a great relief for them to have two tried-and-tested Springboks in JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo back this weekend.

The Sharks did not field their best team against the Chiefs, but nevertheless would have been dismayed by their awful start which they saw them concede 24 points in the first 17 minutes. They played superbly thereafter to score four tries and were only denied a second bonus point by an injury-time penalty, but they were not able to catch the defending champions.

The Highlanders, however, are a team that have not won a match this season – and in fact for almost a whole year – and it is not overstating matters to say the Sharks, with several starters back, will be targeting this game as a must-win affair on an overseas tour that sees them taking on the high-flying Reds in Brisbane next week.

The Highlanders are similar to the Sharks in the respect that they too have a star-studded side, but it has just not been able to click. But several things spell danger for the Sharks. The Otago men are at home, they will be refreshed and have had a chance to clear their heads after a bye, and Brad Thorn, an immensely proud All Black, will be playing his 100th SuperRugby match (92 for the Crusaders) alongside similarly fierce, proven competitors in Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock and Ma’a Nonu.

For all the renewed confidence in terms of attack, the focus for the Sharks must once again be the set-pieces, because it is the pack that anchors their side and the Highlanders are strong up front. Unless they deliver the goods in the primary phases, the Sharks aren’t going to be able to attack effectively no matter who their weapons are.

The Stormers are the other South African team overseas at the moment and they take on the Blues in Auckland. Fortunately they aren’t playing at the daunting Eden Park, but instead at a regional venue in Albany. Nevertheless, it is a clash that should have rugby fans glued to their chairs in front of the TV as the powerful, in-form Stormers take on a hungry Blues team that has retained their attacking prowess but has also been one of the best defensive sides this season.

Bryan Habana will be playing his 50th match for the Stormers and, having appeared 61 times for the Bulls as well, joins former Reds and Force lock Nathan Sharpe as the only players to appear in 50 matches for two franchises. Habana will also be a key man as he marks Frank Halai, one of the leading try-scorers this year.

The Stormers defence has been excellent again this season, conceding just 11 tries, the least in the tournament, and they will need to be at their best against a Blues team that has pace to burn and plenty of vision and skill.

Rene Ranger has been shifted to the wing by the Aucklanders, which has allowed the exciting Francis Saili to come in at outside centre, while fullback Charles Piutau has also been one of the most impressive runners in the tournament this year.

Where the Stormers do have an edge is up front and Eben Etzebeth has returned on the bench to provide them with even more impact in the second half.

The form of Blues veterans Ali Williams and Keven Mealamu has been something of a concern, but the brilliant Steven Luatua has been the outstanding forward and is the frontrunner to fill the shoes of the superb Jerome Kaino in the All Blacks side.

The Stormers tactics should be obvious: The lineout has won 25% of the opposition’s ball so far this season, so the likes of Joe Pietersen, Gary van Aswegen, Dewald Duvenhage and replacements Elton Jantjies and Louis Schreuder will be focusing on the territorial battle, allowing the visitors to pressurise the Blues at the set-piece in their own half.

The fact they are playing in the area of Auckland where most of the South African expatriates live should also help to make the Stormers feel at home.

The Southern Kings have won everyone (except maybe the die-hards in Joburg) over with their committed displays in their debut season of SuperRugby.

They have done a particularly good job against Australian teams and on Saturday they will look to complete an unbeaten sweep against the Force, Rebels, Brumbies and Waratahs when they take on the New South Welshmen in Port Elizabeth.

The Waratahs were irked by what they deemed to be sub-standard refereeing last weekend in their defeat to the Bulls, but this time they have one of the best, the vastly experienced Jonathan Kaplan, in charge.

Kaplan won’t put up with the nonsense they tried at Loftus Versfeld, camping offsides and not releasing in the tackle, so unless the Waratahs sort out their discipline, their hopes in the Australian Conference could be killed off once and for all.

The Kings went to Bloemfontein last weekend and put up a good fight against the Cheetahs, who just had too much pace and attacking skill for them.

The Waratahs attack was way less impressive against the Bulls and, sensibly seeing that all eight have played for the Wallabies, they rely on their pack to get them go-forward.

The Kings went hand-to-hand against the Cheetahs forwards and matched them in all but the breakdowns, and if they get parity again, combined with their never-say-die spirit, they could keep the Waratahs winless in South Africa since May 2009.

The Bulls did what was required of them last weekend to beat the Waratahs, but their opponents on Saturday, the Hurricanes, are much better at keeping the ball alive and stretching defences.

The Bulls have not particularly enjoyed their previous dates with the Hurricanes in Pretoria, losing four of their last seven encounters, including a 37-18 thumping in 2002.

Keeping their defence intact against a team that is most adept with ball in hand will be the focus for the Bulls, and coach Frans Ludeke has included hard-tackling veteran Wynand Olivier at inside centre in place of the injured Jan Serfontein and fetcher-flank Deon Stegmann in an effort to slow down the Hurricanes’ possession at the rucks.

The Hurricanes have arrived in South Africa with wing Julian Savea in tow, fresh from his court appearance on a charge of assaulting his partner, and will be eager to arrest a slide that has seen them lose two of their last three matches, after a four-game winning streak.

The Hurricanes had enough opportunity last weekend to beat the Stormers and they had a strong wind behind them in the first half but didn’t take enough advantage of it.

The Stormers had the kicking game – and the lineout – to keep the Wellingtonians under pressure after the break and there is no doubt the Bulls will be employing similar tactics in the rarefied atmosphere of Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. DM


Stormers (v Blues, Friday 9:35): Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Gary van Aswegen, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Scarra Ntubeni, Pat Cilliers, Eben Etzebeth, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Elton Jantjies, Damian de Allende.

The Sharks (v Highlanders, Saturday 9:35): Riaan Viljoen, JP Pietersen, Frans Steyn, Meyer Bosman, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Charl McLeod, Lubabalo Mtembu, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst. Replacements: Craig Burden, JC Janse van Rensburg, Anton Bresler, Jean Deysel, Tian Meyer, Piet Lindeque, Odwa Ndungane/Derick Minnie.

Southern Kings (v Waratahs, Saturday 17:05): George Whitehead, Sergeal Petersen, Ronnie Cooke, Andries Strauss, Siyanda Grey, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter, Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, Rynier Bernardo, Steven Sykes, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Virgile Lacombe, Grant Kemp, David Bulbring, Luke Watson, Nicolas Vergallo, Waylon Murray, Siviwe Soyzwapi.

Bulls (v Hurricanes, Saturday 19:10): Jürgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Frik Kirsten, Grant Hattingh, Arno Botha, Francois Hougaard, Louis Fouchè, Lionel Mapoe.

Other fixtures:

Rebels v Chiefs (Friday, 11:40); Force v Reds (Saturday, 11:40); Brumbies v Crusaders (Sunday, 7:05).

Bye: Cheetahs. ©

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